Dear B—

I once asked you to describe containment in the hopes that words would become a tangible net or spell and I would be safe forever.

Now, instead of a chrysalis I want:

Emptiness

Extreme space

I want open sky

I want rolling storm clouds and I want to feel the sting of every piece of hail as it strikes the ground (it’s still cold here, still winter–mostly).

But even though I have room to run now my brain is still caught in this weird mind snare that maybe was always there, I don’t know how long I’ve been walking around not noticing.

I’m having some problems and creative outlets help but I still have this awful hollow feeling in my chest and maybe if my body dissolved in the river or the obscenely wonderful streaky pink sunset I’d feel better.

So I want to know, now, even though I don’t feel very proper asking you (it’s not about protocol it’s that there’s so much more going on in the world and it’s President’s Day) but I’d love to know your feelings about the open sky and how you would illustrate the opposite of containment.

Call it freedom if you like

Call it emptiness

Call it a void

Call it silence

Call it the loudest noise in the world, a volcanic eruption

Call it whatever it is that you need to feel a lack of containment.

Sincerely yours,

Jessica

Note: This is an open letter. I’d love to hear/read anyone who wants to answer. Thanks.

Writing Advice #2

Writing can be scary.

Or more specifically, writing, or expressing yourself creatively comes with a lot of extra negative thoughts.

(Writing itself can be scary too, do you dare express yourself? Do you want to let everything out that’s been trapped behind the locked door?)

One of the most important life lessons I’ve learned is you need to run towards the things you are afraid of.

Obviously, not burning buildings if you are afraid of fire, but when you want something and you’re afraid to go get it, you need to go get it anyway.

You have your stories and your poems in your brain and you want to EXPRESS them, you want to let them out but then all the BUTs and SELF-DOUBT and REJECTIONS come in and those can really weigh a person down.

Or you think that after you’ve finished your masterpiece, after you’ve poured all of your blood, sweat, and tears onto the page and actually made a thing, the world will look at it and go: that’s awful. Or you’re afraid you won’t get published or you won’t make any money and you’ll either be a starving artist forever or suffer working at a job you hate just so you can get by and write more crap.

Then you have your relationship to your stories and poems, one day you love them and the next day you hate them and you think they’re crap.

Sometimes when I write, memories come up that I don’t want to remember and sometimes writing doesn’t make me feel happy or safe but I still really, really want to do it, I want to finish that project, I want to write more.

But ultimately, even though it’s scary, writing is something you can throw yourself into. Because writing is something you love to do, even if it makes you feel bad sometimes.

If you can find a 9-5 job that does the same thing, a job that fills the hole in your soul, then do that too. But if the only thing that fills that hole is writing, don’t give up just because it doesn’t pay the bills or because you think you aren’t “good” enough.

There’s lots of bad writing out there but I think that there are more unfinished projects in the world than there are bad writers and you shouldn’t care about whether someone else thinks your writing is good or bad, if you think it’s good you need to stick with it and keep going.

If you think your writing is bad then it’s up to you to fix it, and guess what, you CAN fix it because it’s your story and it can be whatever you want it to be.

So don’t let the negative thoughts get you down. Go write.

Little Girls

They carried the baby bird wrapped in a yellow, flowered handkerchief. Its eyes bulged behind their closed lids and its prickly down barely covered the stubs of its wings. The wrinkly peach flesh was damp with perspiration and plant juice. It choked and twitched feebly, beak broken open.

“We’re going to operate now,” said the little girl in the red corduroy dress. Her glossy, black shoes were scuffed and muddy and her little white tights had been ripped by the holly bush. There were no lights in the attic but the mother had given them three candles with the stipulation that Make Believe was not allowed to knock the candles over and burn the house down.

The two girls scooted past boxes and trash bags filled with grown up things and tiny baby things from times they could not remember. They were like bright fishes, easily distracted by strange colors and strange noises. They crawled on three child’s paws: two dirty knees apiece, one dirty hand apiece, tipped with chewed nails.

“On the operating table,” said the little girl in the red dress. She snatched the handkerchief from her companion and slammed it down on one of the boxes.

“Scalpel!” she cried.

Her companion picked up the handkerchief and lifted it to her nose. There was something there that reminded her of earthworms and pill bugs, like the juice that dripped from the knife to the kitchen floor, like the scolding she received when she stayed out in the sandbox past lunchtime. She reached into the pocked of her blue shorts and held out a sprig of holly.

*

This piece first appeared in Lupercalia.

How to Build an Altar

To build an altar you need the familiar territory of a dry riverbed and the shadow of a nuclear power plant. You need the roar of a siren on the air, the highway in the distance, the skull of a kingfisher and the footprints of someone you don’t love anymore. You need a stone from a hand that killed in a war far from home, knucklebones that know the fractals of a willow branch and all the sounds of breaking. You need the smells of honeysuckle, salt, and gunpowder, a piece of iron if you’re superstitious. You need the oil slick iridescence of a cockroach wing and a lock of your mother’s hair. You need the cornerstone of a place that makes you feel safe, even if that place isn’t really a place but a scrap of paper or the empty air. You need a poem written by someone you haven’t met yet.

*

This poem first appeared in Lupercalia.

Decomposition

A body says, “Hello.”

Another body does not reply.

A body says, “Hello.” Again.

Another body does not reply.

A body walks into a bad joke. A body feels like a bad joke.

A body tries to tell a bad joke to another body and another body walks away.

A body has breakfast alone.

A body skips lunch alone.

A body has coffee alone.

A body has dinner alone.

A body says, “Loneliness is not the unyielding force but the soft buoyancy of humid air that no one else can see.”

A body says, “Loneliness is not the story locked in the past but the inability to explain what happened.”

Or the inability to find someone who will listen.

A body says, “Loneliness is trying as hard as you can but still failing because (insert your beliefs about failing here).”

A body sees.

A body tastes.

A body touches.

A body feels the memories a body doesn’t want to feel. A body blocks them out. A body smothers them with a crashing wave. A body pounds them into the ground and refuses to let them breathe even for one second. A body can’t let them breathe for even a second.

A body hears a body’s fist connect with what a body cannot kill.

A body smells a body’s blood.

A body wonders how a body got hurt when a body was supposed to be inflicting all the hurt, all the punishment.

Why can’t I write?

Writing as a person who has a “day job.” I’m not an entrepreneur, I’m not a business person. I can’t afford to just write and make money off of my writing. I have zero expectations that writing will make me financially stable. But writing isn’t a hobby for me, writing keeps me alive. Writing gives me the strength to go outside my apartment and exist as a human being in a society filled with other human beings. Sometimes being human is scary.

But I’ve found, more harshly than previous bouts of writer’s block, in the last few months I haven’t been able to write. I haven’t found myself capable of putting the ideas forming in my brain onto the page. I have several works in progress and several ideas for how to make them awesome but when I turn on my iPad to write I can’t make the words happen.

So what do I do?

Continue reading Why can’t I write?

Physical(ity)ly

Now I only write numbers.

05 line the 26 day line 2018

My initials are not letters but curves in the road, a roundabout, a punctuated swirl.

I never write my initials the same way twice

But the lab techs and quality know every time it’s me because they

Analyze beautifully

I don’t know what they write I do know

I don’t write words anymore, only numbers

And lines

10 line 04 line 2017 JH

And so on

And so on

With ballpoint pen

I used to hate writing with ballpoints but you can get used to anything if you do it long enough curls in the road like a ribbon, a strand of hair, a stray thought that begins where you are and takes you where you want to be with who you want to be with but if you lose focus you have to error correct and then there are more numbers and more lines

The physical physicality of writing